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When working with historical documents, it is helpful to apply critical analysis to your interpretation of the historical context. The following questions may prove useful for such an analysis and can easily be applied to 19th century documents, modern documents, literature, art objects, film or media, and other formats.
Who created the document?
Who is the intended audience?
Why was the document created? What is its purpose?
When was the document created? What historical events may have influenced the creation of the document?
Does the creator of the document demonstrate bias? What assumptions does s/he make which support this?
Some thoughts on Wikipedia
Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, has made finding background information incredibly easy. But if you are planning to use it as a key resource for your research beware:
Wikipedia and other encylopedias (whether in print or online) do not qualify as scholarly resources.
Encyclopedias are a good place to start your research, but not are generally not considered acceptable sources to cite.
The collaborative and dynamic nature of Wikipedia presents a number of additional concerns regarding the quality and authority of the entries.
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